Huge and long-term impacts on tens of thousands of children resulting from government policy and lack of mitigations
The British Medical Journal has published an opinion piece ‘calling out’ the Tories for the ‘childism’ – the reckless and even intentional promotion of infection in children – of the government’s pandemic policies.
Public health Professor Nisreen Alwan highlights:
- the Tories allowing the Covid virus to spread ‘uncontrollably’ in schoolchildren
- the ‘institutional prejudice and systemic injustice’ of Tory policies
- that Covid infection rates are now ‘by far’ higher among children of all ages than in the general population, followed by those in the parental age group
- that hospitalisation rates among children have risen by 74% since January – the peak of the second wave of the pandemic
- that more than 200,000 children are missing school because coronavirus on any given day – with well over 100,000 confirmed infections
- that at least 11,000 UK children aged 2-16yrs have been suffering with ‘long Covid’ for at least a full year – with 29,000 taking more than three months to recover
Prof Alwan then asks:
Are such rates of coronavirus infection in the young acceptable? This is a virus that is constantly evolving into new variants and which results in prolonged ill health in some of those infected. The latest UK figures from the ONS on long covid released on 7 October 2021 estimate that 11 000 children aged 2-16 have it for at least a year from the date of confirmed or probable infection, with 29 000 estimated not to have recovered at least 12 weeks after onset. This equates to about one in 1000 children out of all those aged 2-11 years living in private households in the UK and five in 1000 out of 12–16-year-olds.
Debate around the definition and methods of estimation of long covid is valid, but it must not detract from the fact that a proportion of children are not recovering after infection, and the higher the community infection rate, the higher the number of children experiencing longer term effects. Long covid does not only affect children’s physical health, but also disrupts their education, causes social isolation, and may lead to declining mental health—all of which are likely to contribute to longer term inequalities. We need to stop propagating a false dichotomy that pitches children’s education and wellbeing against efforts to reduce community transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Socioeconomic and demographic disadvantage must not be compounded with further health inequalities due to SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Alwans also points out that:
childism may also be at play when it comes to debates on covid-19 vaccines. They point out that we must be wary of calls to deprioritise children for vaccines when they betray a bias towards adults in their reasoning. For example, the argument that immunity after infection may be sufficient in children, while adults are recommended to get vaccinated regardless of previous infection.
The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency concluded that the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine is safe and effective in the 12-15 age group on 4 June 2021. It was good news at the time because we had an opportunity during the summer holiday to offer teenagers the vaccine before the autumn term, when they would start mixing in schools again. However, a decision from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) on universal roll-out remained eagerly awaited. Eventually, a statement on 3 September said that in JCVI’s assessment “the margin of benefit is considered too small to support universal vaccination of healthy 12 to 15 year olds.” This was when many other countries had already vaccinated millions of children in that age group. The decision to offer universal vaccination to this age group was delayed until the UK’s chief medical officers released their advice to the government on 13 September. However, currently only one dose out of the two dose vaccination course is offered universally to this age group.
She then pleads with the authorities to:
acknowledge the uncertainties around mass infection in children is not “alarmism” or a call for panic, as such concerns have been often labelled. What I am doing is rejecting the abandonment of the precautionary principle when it comes to a virus that we still know relatively little about, with emerging evidence of worrying lingering health effects. In addition, with re-infections becoming more common, the theoretical assumption that immunity after high levels of natural infection in children will end the pandemic is questionable.
Prof Alwan says that she is not calling for schools to be closed or for further lockdowns to be implemented. But she says that the government is ignoring,
effective protective measures that can be used to keep children attending school and to avoid lockdowns. In addition to the full course of vaccination, these include adequate ventilation, face masks indoors, and reduced crowding. Children have had their education disrupted, their social lives restricted, and their mental health—and sometimes safety—compromised to save adults. Now that adults are more protected, children should not be left to face mass infection with the very same virus they made sacrifices to protect adults from.
The BMJ is hardly known for its anti-Establishment leanings, yet even that publication is now saying enough is enough and demanding a change to the endangerment of the public’s and especially of children’s lives.
The Tories – and lamentably Keir Starmer’s ‘opposition’ – have long ignored clear scientific evidence that schools are key sources of transmission of the coronavirus, while the government’s scientific bodies have subordinated science to the Tories’ political and image-management priorities.
This has to stop. Closing on 200,000 people have already died needlessly under the Establishment’s disgraceful handling of the pandemic. Gambling with our children’s health and futures is criminal and unforgivable.
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